Judges at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on Wednesday denied bail to Ieng Thirith, former Khmer Rouge minister of social action, saying evidence linked her to atrocities carried out nationwide under Democratic Kampuchea.
The decision was the court’s third unanimous refusal in a row to grant bail to suspects detained since last year. In each case, the judges determined that the suspects are capable of destroying evidence, fleeing or provoking general unrest if released.
After the verdict was announced, Phat Pouv Seang, Ieng Thirith’s Cambodian defense lawyer, told reporters the court had unjustly disregarded Ieng Thirith’s pledges to cooperate and not flee.
“The Pre-Trial Chamber has not given justice to my client correctly, which means it is biased,” he said.
In making its ruling, the Pre-Trial Chamber said evidence against Ieng Thirith, who was charged eight months ago with crimes against humanity, appeared to show that she once enjoyed national power and authority, and had helped to identify people who fell victim to the regime.
“A former worker at the Ph-2 Pharmaceutical Plant in Phnom Penh between 1975 and 1979 has declared that regular, monthly conferences continued, with major conferences every three months, at which Ieng Thirith constantly announced that this person or that person was a traitor,” said Prak Kimsan, the Chamber’s president, reading from a summary of the decision.
In appealing their clients’ detentions, lawyers for other suspects held by the court have made arguments about matters including human rights and due process rights violations, procedural defect and double jeopardy.
The Ieng Thirith team, which includes British lawyer Diana Ellis, argued simply that grounds for detention had not been met, an argument also made by the other defense teams.
Prak Kimsan said Wednesday that defense submissions on grounds for detention would be reviewed, as they had in rulings for Brother Number Two Nuon Chea and Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, as “no new arguments have been raised.”
The court Wednesday released a redacted copy of the ruling, in which some references to evidence were removed, and in which at least one instance contained identical wording to the court’s bail ruling for Nuon Chea in March.
Anne Heindel, a legal adviser to the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said war crimes tribunals have in most cases denied pretrial release where the crimes alleged are as serious as war crimes and crimes against humanity.
No one has been granted pretrial release at either the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda or the Special Court for Sierra Leone, she noted.
“Human rights jurisprudence says the presumption is release, and the courts have been grappling with that,” she said, adding that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia had in some cases granted bail where regional governments pledged to ensure that suspects would appear at trial.
“Of course, the whole idea of having them released when they’re accused of such horrible crimes is quite shocking,” she said.
Prior to her November arrest, Ieng Thirith’s family members claimed she had been diagnosed with an unspecified mental illness involving memory loss and similar to that reportedly suffered by her late sister Khieu Ponnary, who was married to Pol Pot.
Defense attorney Phat Pouv Seang told reporters Wednesday that, despite announcing in December that he would seek Ieng Thirith’s release on mental health grounds, the defense had not argued this point as it was best handled by the court’s co-investigating judges.
“She frequently tells me that the medical care provided at the detention center is not adequate,” he said, adding that Ieng Thirith claimed to have suffered insomnia in recent days.
“Today I observed that when she appeared in the hearing, one of her legs became swollen,” he said.
Citing his client’s privacy, Phat Pouv Seang declined to say what psychiatric diagnosis his client had received from doctors, who he said found she suffered mental problems.
Helen Jarvis, the court’s chief of public affairs, said that following the announcement of the ruling, the Pre-Trial Chamber swore in Em Hoy, a newly appointed Cambodian investigator for the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges.
(Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)